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Heinz Lowenstam Oral History Interview with Heidi Aspaturian

 Digital Record
Identifier: 2016-02-17-000108


  • Other: 2016 February 17


Interview conducted in eight sessions in the summer of 1988 with Heinz A. Lowenstam, professor of paleoecology. Dr. Lowenstam was born in Germany and educated at the universities of Frankfurt and Munich. He emigrated to the United States in 1937 to continue his graduate studies in geology and paleontology at the University of Chicago, receiving the PhD there in 1939. After a stint at the Illinois State Museum, he joined the Chicago faculty in 1948, working with Harold C. Urey on paleotemperatures. He joined Caltech's Geology Division in 1952 as a professor of paleoecology, pursuing research in a variety of fields. In 1962, he identified iron in chiton teeth, the first known instance of biomineralization, later found in such diverse creatures as bacteria, honeybees, and birds. In this interview, he recalls the difficulties he faced as a Jew in Nazi Germany, his graduate work in Palestine in the mid-1930s, his life as an émigré, his investigation of Silurian fossils in the Chicago area, and his interaction with such mentors and colleagues at Chicago as Urey, N. L. Bowen, Bailey Willis, Bryan Patterson, and Karl Schmidt. He discusses the evolution of the Geology Division at Caltech; its important move, under division chairman Robert P. Sharp, into geochemistry in the early 1950s; his work on the paleoecology of marine organisms; his recollections of Caltech colleagues, including Sam Epstein, Beno Gutenberg, Hugo Benioff, James Westphal, Max Delbruck, and George Rossman; and the changes that took place in the division over the decades since his arrival.

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